The Lake District

We've been traveling the I-55 corridor, soaking up some of Mississippi’s beautiful outdoorsy-ness. And boy is there a lot of it to soak up!

I-55 runs north-south, just west of mid state. The area we covered – Grenada to Como – sits west of the Hill Country and east of the Delta, and surely vies only with the Gulf Coast in the number and scope of outdoor activities available. We visited Grenada Lake, Enid Lake, and Sardis Lake before we ran out of time – we’ll see Arkabutla Lake on another trip – and we found them all absolutely beautiful. These lakes and their surrounding recreational areas are true Mississippi treasures.

The three lake areas we visited look similar in many ways, which isn’t that surprising since they are all U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control projects. They’re so well done – well laid out, clean, and meticulously maintained, with sandy beaches and conveniently located boat landings. All three lakes are so big that each meets the horizon – scan any of them (at least from shore, as we did) and it’s like looking out to sea. That came as a real shocker to us for some reason. Like most Mississippians, we’re used to seeing both sides of a waterway at once. And we visited the first of April, when water levels are somewhat lower, providing more shoreline! (During the fall and winter months the lakes are drawn down to allow for storage of spring rains.) 

Beautiful Grenada Lake.  Looking west off of the bridge on Scenic Loop 333
We started our tour about three miles northeast of the town of Grenada, at Grenada Lake, a reservoir on the Yalobusha and Skuna Rivers. The entire Corps project covers 90,427 acres, with the lake itself covering an incredible 36,000 acres – making it the biggest in Mississippi. It boasts 148 miles of shoreline, seventeen boat landings, and eight public beaches. There’s a fine Visitor Center (2151 Scenic Loop 333), with an overlook that provides a panoramic view of the lake. The center offers a theater, historical and cultural exhibits, and information on recreational facilities and area attractions.

Fishing area and picnic area off Scenic Loop 333
What a beautiful place to watch the sun come up!  Picnic area west of Scenic Loop 333.
There’s no lack of activities. Visitors can boat, fish, jet ski, swim, picnic, golf, play tennis or basketball, walk trails, hunt, bird watch – the list goes on and on. The nearby Hugh White State Park has cabin rentals – some with screened porches and fireplaces – and a lodge that accommodates thirty-five people. History buffs will want to check out a couple of Civil War redoubts; reenactments are occasionally held here.
Looking North from the Visitor Center at Grenada Lake.  The highway tops the dam.

Grenada Lake is a delight any time of year, but it’s especially fun in June, when Grenada Lake Association holds its annual “Thunder on Water.” Voted one of the Top 20 tourism events in the Southeast, it’s a safe-boating festival that includes a fishing rodeo, carnival rides, a tractor pull, concerts, wrestling, bike and car shows, arts and crafts and more.

Enid Lake
Moving north from Grenada, we came to Enid Lake on the Yocona River. The smallest of the three we visited, Enid is about twelve miles south of Batesville, and on the map it’s dwarfed by Grenada Lake. Consequently, we were gobsmacked to see that it’s huge! The permanent pool is a sizable 6,100 acres, with a flood control pool of some 28,000 acres. The enormity of these projects is almost overwhelming.

Taken from atop the dam at Enid Lake

The lake is known for its family camping facilities and its accessible fishing pier below Enid Dam. There are ten launching ramps around the lake, making it easy to boat, fish, and enjoy water sports. And thirteen recreation areas (most equipped with launching facilities) offer camping, hunting, swimming, picnic areas, and trails of every kind – bike, equestrian, off road vehicles, and all sorts of hiking and nature trails. Between Enid Lake and George Payne Cossar State Park next door, visitors will find plenty to do.

And for the record, Enid Lake garnered a world record when someone caught a five-pound crappie! Crappie is pronounced “CROP py” by the way, and while we don’t have a clue why it’s spelled that way, we think there might be a good story there. 

Sardis Lake

Sardis Dam, on the Little Tallahatchie River, is nine miles southeast of the town of Sardis. The dam is 15,300 feet long, with an average height of 97 feet.
Sardis Lake is a huge body of water - 9,800 acres, with a control pool of 58,500 acres. Known for its sandy beaches, it's as beautiful as the other two, and a favorite of anglers. These Corps projects are just outstanding.
Sardis Lake -- can you see the other side? We couldn't either!
Fishing, anyone?
To say the fishing is great at Sardis is an understatement. Al Reed, who hails from Independence, Mississippi, broke the world record (32 pounds) for Big Head Carp when he landed a 65-pounder at Sardis Lake – huge news in the fishing world. Not surprisingly, it took Al forty-five minutes to land this fish, which was almost four feet long! 

Not in the mood to fish? There are eighteen public recreation areas, thirteen with launching facilities. Nearby John Kyle State Park offers a swimming pool, recreation hall, rental cabins and a golf course. And, if you're checking out the facilities, be sure to go by the Sardis Lake Field Office. They have a lighted stop sign that's solar powered - a contraption worthy of a drive by!

Well...guess the name says it all.  This store is located on the road to Sardis Lake
And...this lighted sign was in the front of the Dam Store.


We’re coo-coo for Como. Seriously, we are. It’s one of the prettiest towns in Mississippi. Located about 45 miles south of Memphis, Como sits on Highway 51, which runs parallel to I-55. A hundred or so years ago, it was a town of great wealth; we’re told it had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country. It’s seen some hard times since then, but those halcyon days are still evident in the beautiful homes and charming buildings downtown. We don’t know if Hollywood knows about Como, but they should – it’s the quintessential small Southern town.

Looking North on N.Main Street in Como - it's much prettier in person! There are a few empty storefronts, but most buildings have been beautifully refurbished.
Looking South on Como's N. Main Street. Note the number of cars at 7 p.m.

We went to Como solely to check out Como Steakhouse (201 N. Main Street). We weren’t particularly hungry, but it was dinner time and we’d been told we should try it – so we did. And we’re really really really glad we did. Not only was the steak delicious and the service friendly, but the restaurant itself is worth a visit. It’s in a 125-year-old multistory building, a former mercantile store. It has a pressed tin ceiling and original doors, floors, and fireplaces, and its walls are covered in old photographs. The building is a wonderful trip back in time, and a tour of the walls is one of the most pleasant history lessons ever.

A beautiful old fireplace in the main dining room of Como Steak house.

The entry in the Como Steak House

The downtown business district runs along one side of N. Main Street, which is actually a very attractive boulevard rather than just an ordinary street. Just down from the Como Steakhouse is the Windy City Grille (217 N. Main), which was emitting all sorts of delicious smells when we were there. They had a good crowd, too – the place was full at 7:00 on a Monday night…in a town of some 1,300 people.

On the same strip of N. Main Street is the Como Green Grocer. We didn’t get to tour greater Como – it got dark – so we don’t really know what all the town has to offer, but we were told there are no grocery stores and that the farmers' market recently closed, leaving locals with nowhere to pick up fresh fruits and veggies (the closest grocery is five miles away in Sardis). Aside from produce, the store stocks cooking oils, specialty items, and the works of several local artists who consign pottery, baskets, etc. Cool place – and a totally unexpected find on Main Street in a small town.

An unexpected find within the store was a photograph of a very pretty woman wearing turn of the 20th century dress. The woman was a member of the locally prominent Sledge family: Adelaide Eugenia “Ada” Sledge, who was Tallulah Bankhead’s mother! Who knew?!? (Ada married a politician from Alabama, but Tallulah spent time with her relatives in Como.)

Adelaide Eugenia "Ada" Sledge
Ada's picture from Ancestry.com family tree...I just couldn't help myself. Isn't she beautiful?

The Como Green Grocer

The Como Inn is just steps away from the Green Grocer, at 215 N. Main Street, in the historic Popular Price-Van Der Vyver building. The inn occupies the top floor of this 1899 building and offers six hotel rooms, a library, and a fully-stocked kitchen, as well as a large gathering hall and a back porch for relaxing.
The front door of the Como Inn -- what a beautiful old oak door

At the end of the strip of storefronts is another hotel, the Como Courtyard B&B, 235 N. Main. According to the Green Grocer’s proprietor, part of the 125-year-old building’s roof collapsed some time ago and a tree began growing up within the walls. When the building was refurbished, the owners left the tree and built a courtyard around it. We didn’t go inside, but it’s a kick to stand outside and see this huge tree popping up from inside a building.

The B&B is interesting in that it takes only one reservation at a time, although it can accommodate eight guests within that reservation. Whatever the number of guests, they'll all be impressed by the 18-foot tin ceiling, exposed bricks, and beautiful antique rugs and furniture. www.comocourtyard.net
The wall of the old building is about 18-20 feet tall. After the roof collapse, this tree began growing in the ruins.

Several famous people have called Como home. Local farmer Othar “Otha” Turner was one of the last well-known fife players in a musical tradition known as the American fife and drum blues tradition. His first CD – made when he was ninety years old – was “Everybody’s Hollerin’ Goat.” Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the top five blues albums of the 1990s.

Another Como farmer who became a famous bluesman was Mississippi Fred McDowell. McDowell, known as the father of Hill Country Blues, is buried near Como in a silver lame suit, a gift from the Rolling Stones. Bonnie Raitt, a protégé and friend, purchased his grave marker.

Como is also the birthplace and childhood home of Stark Young, author of the Civil War novel (made into a movie) So Red the Rose.

The kind proprietor at the Green Grocer gave us a brochure of a "Walking Tour of Historic Como." Since it was going to be dark soon, we decided to drive rather than walk, as we were on our way out of town anyway. He pointed out the first house on the tour – Four Oaks, right across the street – a beautiful, huge, white mansion which, he explained, was a Sears Roebuck house! If he hadn’t been such a helpful, honest soul, we wouldn’t have believed him.

Wow. Most of the prefab houses Sears used to sell out of their catalog were cottages; this is Tara! It was an incredible start to an incredible tour. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we want our readers to see it too. So, here it is (minus the Taylor-Edwards House, which we somehow didn't get a picture of).
Four Oaks 1919
Wardlaw-Swango-Long House 1898

Wallace-Taylor-Mansker-Best House 1891
Wardlaw-Orr-Kagiyama House 1902

Oakhurst 1895
Craig-Seay-Clinton House 1899
The Painted Lady 1895
Taylor-Pointer-Logan House 1895

While we were touring, we happened upon a couple out walking their dogs. The man stopped and chatted for a while and mentioned that the church on the tour was open – “It’s never locked.” – and that we should stop in. We did and we’re so glad. We saw beautiful stained glass windows, lovely old pews, and a gorgeous chancel – it looks like something out of a storybook wedding.

The Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church, built in 1872, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The houses on the tour are all very near each other, sprinkled throughout the neighborhood across the street from downtown Como. The neighborhood they are in is as impressive as the houses themselves though. It’s just beautiful. With few exceptions – and by few, we mean maybe three or four – the houses are immaculately maintained. The neighborhood looks like a movie set, it’s so clean and picturesque. There are big houses and little houses, but they all seem to be tended with the same attention to detail and talent for landscaping. Just beautiful. And we had the good fortune to be touring at the best possible time - there's no better time to tour Mississippi than when the azaleas and wisteria are in full blossom.

On the way out of town, we stopped across the boulevard from the business strip to photograph something that is becoming more common, if not ubiquitous, throughout Mississippi: public storm shelters. We’re glad locals have this potential protection, but we’re still hoping no tornadoes find their way to Como – it would be a real loss if this beautiful little town were to be destroyed.

Community Storm Shelter on N. Main Street